Liberia’s economy has historically relied on a variety of commodities, including iron ore and rubber export, and on natural resources such as timber. In addition, livestock, rice, and fish have been traded for centuries. After the arrival of the Amero-Liberians in the 1800’s, laws were passed banning foreign trade with indigenous people, consigning the native population into forced labor for Liberian-American concerns.
Later military considerations during the period of unrest in the late 20th and early 21st centuries led to the exploitation of the country’s diamond mines, and political upheaval and human rights abuses brought about trade embargoes. The rape of Liberia’s resources by its dictators, combined with foreign trade restrictions and devastated infrastructure due to war and looting, left Liberia crippled for over two decades. Damage to the infrastructure of Liberia was so complete that its capital city of Monrovia was without electricity or running water as late as the 2006 elections.
The ban on the trade of Liberian diamonds was lifted in 2007 by the United Nations, and trade has once again resumed within the country. Liberia, however, still struggles with massive national debt, due to its wartime damages.
Liberia used the U.S. dollar as its standard until 1982 and has since adopted the Liberian dollar, which recently traded against the U.S. dollar at a rate of 65:1. Currently, Liberia’s largest industry is the maritime industry, with over 3,000 vessels registered under its flag. This is due in a large part to Liberia’s status as a “flag of convenience”.
The current administration, under President Johnson-Sirleaf (a Harvard educated banker), currently is seeking to stimulate the country’s economy through reduction of corruption, encouragement of private investment, and the solicitation of support from international donors. In addition, the Liberian government has actively sought technical assistance from both private companies and international agencies in the reconstruction of vital infrastructure in both rural and metropolitan areas throughout the country.